Familiar with Pain

easter post 2015

It was mostly fear that had prevented me from reading this book sooner. Especially sensitive since becoming a mum, I didn’t think I’d have the nerve to get through a memoir of the holocaust. But I’m really glad I took the plunge, because never was an account of the Lord’s faithfulness more profound and strangely beautiful than The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  This isn’t a book review, friends, but I am sharing one of the lessons Corrie taught me.

I started reading this book with hunger – a hunger to know that God is still good, even when the unthinkable happens.

Injustice is a legal term, and the legal system is not known for its shows of emotion. But I think injustice is, actually, extremely emotive. Often when I’m most upset, traumatised, furious, it’s because of injustice. Child abuse; exploitation; oppression. Someone, through no fault of their own, is suffering at the hands of others. Our hearts cry out against it, don’t they?

It can make us angry. Not just angry with the perpetrators, but with God, too. Doesn’t he see? Doesn’t he realise? How can he let this happen? Is he sleeping? I want to wake him up.

Here’s an excerpt from The Hiding Place. I’ve chosen one which doesn’t spoil the story for you. Here Corrie writes about the little Bible she had with her in Ravensbruck camp, and the routine medical examinations she, her sister Betsie and the other prisoners had to endure:

I had believed the Bible always, but reading it now had nothing to do with belief. It was simply a description of the way things were – of hell and heaven, of how men act and how God acts. I had read a thousand times the story of Jesus’ arrest – how soldiers had slapped Him, laughed at him, flogged him. Now such happenings had faces and voices.
Fridays – the recurrent humiliation of medical inspection. The hospital corridor in which we waited was unheated, and a fall chill had settled into the walls. Still we were forbidden even to wrap ourselves in our own arms, but had to maintain our erect, hands-at-sides position as we filed slowly past a phalanx of grinning guards. How there could have been any pleasure in the sight of these stick-thin legs and hunger-bloated stomachs I could not imagine. Surely there is no more wretched sight than the human body unloved and uncared for…
But it was one of these mornings while we were waiting, shivering, in the corridor, that yet another page in the Bible leapt into life for me.
He hung naked on the cross.
… I leaned toward Betsie, ahead of me in line. Her shoulder blades stood out sharp and thin beneath her blue-mottled skin.
“Betsie, they took His clothes too.”
Ahead of me I hear a little gasp. “Oh, Corrie. And I never thanked Him…” p.182-3.

Throughout the book, Corrie and Betsie find impossible contentment and even see beauty in the overwhelming ugliness of their situation. But if you widen your lens and absorb the bigger picture of her situation, your heart bursts with indignation at the injustice of it all. They’re called prisoners, but their “crime” had been protecting people from genocide. They’re people, made in God’s image, treated like vermin. None of this should ever have been allowed to happen.

But there is a greater injustice even than this. There was an ultimate injustice, and it happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, give or take. Not only had Jesus, God’s Son, committed no crime, he alone had committed no sin. He suffered injustice through man’s justice system, and died forgiving the ones who tortured and killed him. More than that, he died so that they could be forgiven:

“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
“Crucify him!” they shouted.
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate… had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Mark 15: 12-15

You might be wondering – OK, but how does that help? I think it helps in many, many ways, but here are two (which I think, on reflection, are overlapping!):

There is the way it helped Corrie and Betsie in their situation. Jesus does see their suffering, and not just in a way that we see things on the news and know about them. He sees and knows, because he’s lived through it himself (“a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”). Not just that, but he’s lived through worse. He suffered the ultimate isolation – being abandoned by God the Father – so that we don’t have to. So he can give great comfort in our time of need, because he’s been there. He’s actually been where we’ll never have to go: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 16:34). We’ll never have to, because he did.

And it also helps because of what he achieved for us. When we look at the cross, we see how much God cares about justice. He wanted to bring us into a world where there is only goodness and truth, where everything is fair, where there is no isolation and no grief. And there was only one way to make that possible, but it required sacrifice. Not ours, but His. So through suffering we can look ahead to that certain hope of a new creation where none of these questions will ever need to be asked again.

He was treated badly and made to suffer.
But he didn’t open his mouth…
He was given a grave with those who were evil.
But his body was buried in the tomb of a rich man.
He was killed even though he hadn’t harmed anyone.
And he had never lied to anyone.

The Lord says, “It was my plan to crush him
and cause him to suffer.
I made his life an offering to pay for sin.
But he will see all his children after him.
In fact, he will continue to live.
My plan will be brought about through him…

He was counted among those who had committed crimes.
He took the sins of many people on himself.
And he gave his life for those who had done what is wrong.”
From Isaiah 53 (NIRV)

Related links: Trust Issues; More than Sparrows; On your Knees

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One thought on “Familiar with Pain

  1. Pingback: Grenfell | Mum in Zone One

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